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Yearly Archives: 2013

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The Future of Search and the Internet of Everything According to Google’s Scott Huffman

In a recent interview with the Independent, Google engineering director, Scott Huffman, outlined the kind of future he thinks is right around the corner—a future when typing our queries into a little box will be seem downright archaic, and our interaction with technology will be more like a conversation. Instead of keyboards, we’ll have microphones and speakers in the ceiling recording conversations and giving answers to direct questions, like the Star Trek computer.

2013 in Review: The Eight Biggest Stories In Exponential Tech

It’s been a fast-moving year, so before diving headlong into 2014, we thought we'd take stock and revisit some of the year’s most notable stories in exponential technology.

Genomic Studies Sift Centenarian DNA for Genes Protecting Against Age-Related Diseases

Occasionally, you hear tell of a hale hundred-year-old who drank and smoked her way through life—or the reverse, a health nut who tragically fell prey to a killer disease at 40. Though diet and exercise influence health and longevity, they're only part of the story. The inherited, genetic drivers of aging and illness are still poorly understood.

Progress in Efforts to Develop Lab-Grown Lungs: Functional Cells

Since the development of induced pluripotent stem cells in 2006, scientists have managed to use the manufactured stem cells like seeds to grow a wide range of tissues and rudimentary organs. But different tissue types have not proven equal, and researchers are still struggling to coax stem cells to take on certain roles: Lung cells have proved difficult to create. Columbia University researchers recently managed to develop functional lung and airway cells from human iPSCs.

Medtronic’s Minimally Invasive Pacemaker the Size of a Multivitamin

Back in November, we wrote about a tiny pacemaker made by Silicon Valley startup Nanostim. Whereas traditional pacemakers require chest surgery and a pocket to implant the device in—the Nanostim pacemaker is implanted by making a simple incision in the thigh and snaking a catheter through an artery to the heart. Nanostim was approved for use in Europe, subsequently acquired by St. Jude Medical—and now it has competition. Medtronic recently announced they’ve successfully implanted a similar device into the heart of an Austrian patient.

Drug Hopes to Delay Onset of Alzheimer’s Symptoms With a Monthly Shot in the Arm

An Alzheimer's drug is attracting the spotlight as it enters clinical trials. The drug, called solanezumab, appears to slow the buildup of amyloid beta in the brain and improves cognitive function in patients with mild dementia when given as a monthly shot. But the excitement about the drug is as much a measure of other treatments’ failures as it is of its success.

Researchers, Startups Hope One Drop of Blood Could Diagnose All Types of Cancer

As genetics reveals the incredible diversity among cancer cells, researchers have largely given up pursuing a silver bullet to cure all types of cancer. Instead, many have begun searching for the next-best thing: a silver bullet test to diagnose all cancers. The test would look for markers of cancer in the patient’s blood, where the process of tumor-making leaves a trail that can often be picked up before tumors are big enough to spot.

Edible Batteries Could Power a Range of Smart Pills and Medical Devices

Carnegie Mellon materials engineer Christopher Bettinger argues that flexible biodegradable batteries safe for human consumption could maximize the benefits of smart pills and devices “by harnessing simultaneous advantages afforded by electronically active systems and obviating issues with chronic implants.” In a recent paper, Bettinger documents that such a battery made from the pigment cuttlefish — sea creatures related to squid — can discharge 10 microamperes of electricity for a period of five hours, with performance under ideal circumstances of up to 24 hours.

Delicate Eye Cells Are Latest to Be 3D-Printed

Blindness might just be the first major disability to disappear, at least if our high-tech future takes more a utopian than dystopian bent. A bionic eye is already on the market in the United States, and stem cell therapy has been shown to restore sight in mice. Now British scientists have successfully printed retinal cells.

It’s Settled: Electric Cars Are Cleaner Than Their Gas-Powered Cousins

One major issue that has dogged the electric vehicle is the complexity of any answer to the simple question, Are EVs better for the environment than gasoline-powered cars? Many instinctively believe the answer is no, because the cars get their power from the electrical grid — which is, in turn, driven chiefly by coal and natural gas. While that instinct may have been valid in decades past, it no longer is.

Prosthetic Hand With Sense of Touch Picks Stems From Cherries

Igor Spetic lost his hand on the job three years ago to an industrial hammer. But like Luke Skywalker, Spetic’s testing a new bionic hand. And though the hand hasn’t caught up to the tech of faraway galaxies, long ago, it’s closer than you might think.

NASA Unveils Valkyrie, a Humanoid Robot Destined for Space Exploration

What comes to mind when you hear valkyrie? Fierce female deities escorting Viking warriors to Valhalla? Bold World War II assassination plots? Friendly human-like robots diligently at work on Martian habs? NASA’s hoping the latter will swamp the former. Robots based on their new bipedal robot, Valkyrie, may eventually wind up spacewalking in orbit or on Mars doing the kind of work current rovers could only dream of doing.

Meta Launches Its AR Eyeglass Hologram Computer To Compete With Glass

Meta, a Silicon Valley startup with an Israeli Defense Forces veteran at the helm, has opted to try to out-perform Glass in functionality, even if it means a significantly less lightweight product. The company recently opened pre-ordering for its first consumer product, Mega Pro glasses.

New Study: Daily Multivitamins, Supplements ‘A Waste Of Money’

One of the few nutritional recommendations that most doctors seemed to agree with — take a daily multivitamin to plug any gaps in your diet — is facing a serious challenge in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The journal’s current issue features two studies and a meta-analysis which all conclude that multivitamins don’t deliver any significant health benefits.

Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Headset Gets $75M Investment: Coming To ‘Consumers Everywhere’

Virtual reality, long a dream of gamers and science fiction buffs, has moved much closer to reality since Oculus burst onto the scene earlier this year. The company got a significant vote of confidence recently, in the form of a $75-million investment round led by one of Silicon Valley’s most highly regarded venture capital firms, Andreessen Horowitz.

Google Buys Boston Dynamics in Sensational Eighth Robotics Acquisition

Google just acquired Boston Dynamics. It’s the eighth robotics company the California tech titan has purchased in six months and, by far, the biggest deal. For two decades, Boston Dynamics has been nearly synonymous with robotics.

Handheld Device TellSpec Can Detect Allergens, Chemicals, and Nutrients In Food

A hand-held spectrometer pioneered by Toronto-based TellSpec that can determine exactly what is in the user’s food and display it on his or her smartphone. The idea for the device came from co-founder Isabel Hoffman’s daughter, who suffers from gluten intolerance and other food allergies.

Will Advanced AI Be Our Final Invention?

There’s plenty of tech fear out there thanks to Hollywood, but there’s also the tendency to imagine we’re immune to AI risk because it’s been in a movie, so, ipso facto it’s fantasy. While it’s tempting to seek solace in this line of reasoning, the experts who are actually working on artificial intelligence have something else to say. Many point to a suite of looming problems clustered around the complexity of real-world software and the inherent uncontrollability of intelligence.

Evidence Mounts for Gene Therapy as Treatment for Heart Failure

Damage done to the vital organ by heart failure has been the focus of much research into gene therapy, a process in which patients receive, usually inside an inert virus, replacement genes for those suspected of causing an illness. One genetic treatment has gotten as far as clinical trials in patients with heart failure, and initial results presented recently at an American Heart Association meeting, suggest that the gene therapy may just help hearts damaged by heart failure heal themselves.

Coin Device That Consolidates Credit Cards Is Selling Like Hotcakes

Coin is a mat black, rectangular piece of plastic. It’s about the size and shape of a credit card, maybe a little thicker, and like a credit card has a magnetic strip. Unlike a credit card, coin carries a chip, sports a small digital display, and is a financial shape shifter—it can become any of eight stored credit cards with a button flick.

Ma Bell Dives Into Home Automation With Digital Life Package

Home automation is the rare futuristic idea that has almost universal appeal. Yet, it’s been slower to arrive than other, more controversial technologies. But a few recent developments suggest that it's edging toward mainstream adoption. AT&T is currently rolling out Digital Life, a home automation subscription service that connects alarm systems, security cameras, lights, thermostats and selected devices (like the iron) to a mobile app.

A Dual-Screen Smartphone? Hello YotaPhone

Ever wish your phone could swap between LCD and e-ink displays to save power? Wish no more. Yota XX’s YotaPhone offers both an e-ink screen (like the Kindle Paperwhite) on one side and a standard backlit LCD on the other.

Artist Paints Photorealistic Morgan Freeman Portrait With a $7 App on His iPad

UK graphic artist, Kyle Lamber, recently showed how powerful digital painting apps have become. Working from a photograph, Lambert used a painting app, his finger, and an iPad to compose an almost photo-perfect portrait of Morgan Freeman. The host of Through the Wormhole is, of course, a perfectly appropriate model for this demonstration of the power of tech.

Google Officially Enters the Robotics Business With Acquisition of Seven Startups

Last year, I visited a warehouse behind a typically fashionable San Francisco café where two startups, Bot & Dolly and Autofuss, were busy making the insanely immersive visuals for the film Gravity (among a host of other projects) using naught but assembly line robots, clever software, and high-def cameras. A few months later, I found myself in another warehouse—this time some forty minutes south of the city—where robotic arms, built and programmed by Industrial Perception, used advanced computer vision to sort toys and throw around boxes. What do these companies have in common? According to the New York Times, they were just secretly acquired by Google—along with five other robotics firms over the last six months—to design and build a fleet of super-advanced robots under the direction of Andy Rubin, the man behind Google’s mobile operating system, Android.

Rise Of The Robot Security Guards: R2D2 Lookalike K5

Knightscope’s K5 is a 5-foot-tall, 300-pound robot that patrols areas like school campuses. But the company is now marketing K5 as a security tool for corporate campuses, warehouses and even communities.

3D Systems and Motorola Explore 3D Printed Lego-Like Modular Smartphones

Motorola's Project Ara aims to build custom, open source smartphones out of easily replaceable, updatable, snappable blocks. They hope such modular smartphones will do away with today’s rapid cycles of device obsolescence, and they recently added a new co-conspirator—3D printing giant, 3D Systems.

IBM to Offer App Developers Access to Resident AI and Jeopardy Champ Watson

The age of the pocket AI is imminent. IBM recently announced they’re opening their supercomputer, Watson, and its natural language powers to developers. The hope is apps drawing on Watson might soon reside on smartphones everywhere.
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Flying Robot Jellyfish an Exceedingly Light, Simple Design

NYU's Leif Ristroph wanted to design an exceedingly simple miniature flying robot. Instead of finding inspiration in insects, he turned to the jellyfish, a water dweller. Whereas insect-like bots require heavy processors and sensors to stay stable—lacking a brain, jellyfish are still efficient, elegant swimmers. Ristroph’s robots are as dumb as a jellyfish—and similarly simple and efficient.

Amazon: Drones Could Deliver Orders in Half an Hour, But Feds Need To Allow It

In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos boasted that his company would soon offer 30-minute delivery by drone in a feature called Prime Air. Justifiably or not, Bezos is very, very bullish on commercial drones. Just think, they are to trucks and planes what the Internet is to paper.

Matternet CEO Tells TED Global Internet of Drones Could Positively Impact a Billion

A billion people have no access to all-season roads. Over three billion live in cities or megacities. Quick access to goods faces either impassible mud or impenetrable gridlock. But Singularity University Labs startup, Matternet, has a plan. Speaking to an audience at TED Global last summer, co-founder and CEO, Andreas Raptopoulos said Matternet is “a new idea about a network for transportation that is based on the ideas of the internet.”

Google Glass Makes Its Way Into Operating Rooms

Hands-free devices like Google Glass can be really transformative when the hands they free are those of a surgeon. And leading hospitals, including Stanford and the University of California at San Francisco, are beginning to use Glass in the operating room.

Eat Nuts, Live Longer? Study Says Yes

To live longer and healthier, the best current advice is exercise, maintain healthy weight and eat dark leafy greens. But we're likely to increasingly see eating nuts included in that list. Those who ate nuts nearly every day were 20 percent less likely to die in the course of two 30-year cohort studies. Nut eaters were almost 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease and more than 10 percent less likely to die of cancer than those who never at them.

FDA Approves Brain Implant to Monitor and Autonomously Respond to Epileptic Seizures

In recent years, brain implants have been used to control tremors from Parkinson’s Disease and help quadriplegics move robotic arms. We can now add epilepsy to the list—a brain implant for patients suffering epileptic seizures was recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FDA Tells 23andMe to Stop Marketing DNA Sequencing Service

The FDA told 23andMe on Monday that it must stop marketing its hallmark personal DNA sequencing kit. The agency informed the company that it considers its 2012 petition for approval withdrawn because it has not received the information that it required.

NASA’s Next Frontier: Growing Plants On The Moon

A small team at NASA’s Ames Research Center has set out to “boldly grow where no man has grown before” – and they’re doing it with the help of thousands of children, a robot,...

Fleets of Robots Take To the Sea, Autonomously Collecting Data

Autonomous robots are plumbing the ocean’s depths with increasing regularity. This hurricane season, a research project called GliderPalooza 2013 deployed some twelve sea drones to take a snapshot of the mid-Atlantic ocean. Ocean-going robots can go where humans can’t, are cheaper than ships, and easier to maintain than buoys. Combined traditional data sources, scientists are piecing together an increasingly complex map of the ocean.

Spain Considers Release Of Genetically Modified Fruit Flies, Controversy Simmers

Medical uses of genetic technology are well received. But agricultural uses are a different story, generating controversy at every turn. In the United States, where genetically modified strains dominate the most common crops, fights have...

Chefs, Guitar Heroes, Even Doctors Now On Demand With Google Helpouts

Telemedicine and online education aim to connect great teachers and skilled doctors to thousands or millions using video. Google’s latest experiment expands that list to place experts, from chefs to yoga teachers, on call for anyone, anytime.
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Jason Silva and Barry Ptolemy Collaborate on New Series, ‘The Future of Us’

Future of Us on AOL. Silva told us the new stuff will be recognizable to those who’ve seen Shots of Awe or his philosophical espresso shots. Sponsorship by Chevrolet came with creative freedom and the funds to improve the end product.

Smartphone Physicals Are Taking Off With Explosion of Apps, Attachments

Last month in a Ted Talk, Shiv Gaglani showed that a standard physical exam can now be done using only smartphone apps and attachments. From blood pressure cuff to stethoscope and otoscope — the thing the doctor uses to look in your ears — all of the doctor’s basic instruments are now available in “smart” format. The work has generated a lot of interest and will likely become the basis for a company.

Sensors Embedded in Clothing? Check Out Sensoria Smart Socks

The first wave of self-tracking devices—Fitbit, Fuel, XX—has washed ashore and perhaps receded somewhat. No one device went viral; none are must-have. Even so, market watchers predict strong growth in wearables, and more specifically, sports and activity trackers make up some 61% of the market. Most of these strap to your wrist to record heart rate with a traditional monitor or count steps with an accelerometer. But a more recent example, Sensoria, may better exemplify the market direction—that is, instead of discrete devices, more sensors will be invisibly embedded in clothing or attached to the skin.

Bionic Eye Implant Will Become Available in U.S. in Coming Weeks

The Argus II retinal implant looks like computing goggles such as Google Glass, but it sends the images the eyeglass-mounted visual processing unit detects to a tiny electrode array that’s been implanted in the user’s retina. Electrical stimulation sends visual information up the optic nerve to the visual cortex of the user’s brain, allowing him or her to see. You could call it a bionic eye, and average Americans will gain access to it before the end of 2013.

With Flexible Circuits, Wearable Electronics Gain Uses

Boston-based electronics company MC10's skullcap that measures head trauma will be spotlighted at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. There are lots of wearable products out there. Most are small and clip easily onto clothing, but they're as rigid and fragile as electronics ever were. Few if any other wearable devices could withstand a football game attached to one of the players, but MC10 is proof that more will come.

Small, Fast and Cheap, Theranos Is the Poster Child of Med Tech — and It’s in Walgreen’s

A number of startups are selling portable diagnostic laboratories that require just a drop of the patient’s blood, made possible by advances in the field of microfluidics. But perhaps an equally important part of making lab tests faster, easier and more accurate is a turn-of-the-last century technology: automation.That’s the bet the Silicon Valley company Theranos is making, and the company recently sealed a deal with Walgreen’s Pharmacy to deliver on-site laboratory services to many of its stores.

New Surgery Promises Cyborg Bladder

A study published recently in Science Translational Medicine suggests that it may be possible to give paralyzed patients control over their bladders while avoiding both catheterization. Instead, doctors could craft insulated packets of nerves and connect them to an electrical probe that allows patients to urinate with the touch of a button, according to the study.

After Bubble and Crash, Volatile Virtual Currency Bitcoin Marks New Highs

You may tune into Real Housewives of Miami for drama. Me? I search “bitcoin” on Google. The virtual currency’s a vortex of intrigue and high adventure—not to mention volatile and high-flying returns. Some think it might be the future of money.

California Startup, Tribogenics, Develops Smart Phone Sized Portable X-ray Machines

A Southern California startup called Tribogenics is using a new method of producing X-rays, fleshed out by Darpa-funded research at UCLA, to make X-ray machines more robust and portable.

DNA Sequencing Is Moving to the Cloud

In October, an ambitious, collaborative genetic research program based at Baylor University became the largest cloud-based genomic research project to date, by its own account. As part of Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology, or CHARGE, the sequencing endeavored to link the risk of particular diseases with particular genetic variants — a task that checks off two variables that mean big data: population research and whole genome sequencing.

Monkeys Control Coordinated Arms Using Brain-Machine Interface

Duke University researchers Miguel Nicolelis and Peter Ifft managed to create a two-handed brain-machine interface using monkeys in a study recently published in Science Translational Medicine.

New Chip to Detect Gestures in Front of Tiny Wearable Screens

It has proven difficult to design a rich, easy-to-use interface for devices whose screens are only a few finger widths across. But for every problem there's a startup, and this one's no exception. A fledgling company, Chirp Microsystems is developing a gesture-based operating system to work with a new chip that uses sound, rather than vision, to track the user's movements.

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